Crucible of Words – Modern Day Lightning by Cyrus Bales

Crucible of Words – How do you solve a problem like a Mindsculptor? By Cyrus Bales


This week, I’ll be sharing a homebrew Modern deck with you. Since Modern is the next PTQ season, everyone is looking for new tech and decks to play before they often fall back to one of the various builds of Zoo. With zoo being so prominent, I wanted to build a deck that has a good match up against it, but also can play well against the Gifts Ungiven. Lastly, I wanted it to be able to compete with the three main combo decks in the field, Splinter-Twin , Ad NauseamAngel’s GraceConflagrate and the Storm deck.

So, where to start? I want to be playing a lot of removal, and one of the best engines in Modern is Punishing FireGrove of the Burnwillows. Aggro, combo and control all use this engine, and it’s well worth it, being able to control the board and keep your better removal spells back for longer makes it pretty potent. Also in red, we have Lightning Bolt which is ideal for offing early Wild Nacatls, and Lightning Helix which can buy back some life pretty effectively as well as splat a creature. Playing into white, it gives us Path to Exile, which unsurprisingly is fantastic against Splinter-Twin and Zoo alike, and even more unsurprisingly, the base of this deck seems like Red-White control.

However that colour combination can’t cut it well enough against the combo decks, so I needed another colour, I thought about disruption in black like Thoughtseize but settled instead on blue for Vendillion Clique and some counterspells. Negate is the best counterspell for what I need this deck to have, so it was the first inclusion, but the deck needs more win conditions, so I added Snapcaster Mage who gives you so much value in this deck it’s incredible.

But something was missing. The deck’s win conditions were pretty vulnerable to Punishing Fire, I needed something bigger, something that had board presence and value and could hold its own in combat against things like Wild Nacatl. Lightning Angel. She is a card that has seen some success over the years and is pretty much exactly what I want, sure she was the only non-instant speed card in the deck, but she was perfect. Getting in for damage straight away can make the burn in the deck a viable win condition, especially in control match ups. Her vigilance meant she could hold back attackers whilst acting like a one sided Sulfuric Vortex at the same time, and her evasion meant the damage would reliably get through in a world without Bitterblossom. And let’s not forget the body, Punishing Fires means that exalted creatures won’t stick around long, so she can eat up a Nacatl or make it stay at home, and can beat opposing Vendilion Cliques in the air. I had found the answer I was looking for.

The deck plays at instant speed to the point that my deck can only ever make a Tarmogoyf a 3/4 on the other side of the table, making one of the best hitters in Zoo merely a decent creature who bounces off of the Angel.

I had the basic list in mind, so I put it down, but I had to round out some numbers to finish off:


4 Lightning Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Vendilion Clique
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Punishing Fire
4 Path to Exile
3 Negate
3 Repeal
2 Dissipate
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Arid Mesa
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
3 Steam Vents
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Sacred Foundry
1 Reflecting Pool
2 Plains
2 Island
1 Mountain

So, this was my first draft of a main deck. There are a few card choices I was uncertain about, the third Repeal, the fourth Lightning Angel and the Reflecting Pool. I figured I could test them out and see how they felt, obviously Lightning Angel is very good, but four can often leave them in your hand which may not be ideal, I also think 25 lands is the right number, but if I can get away with 24, then having Reflecting Pool as the 25th means I can see its impact more often as I know when I draw the 25th land rather than upping the count of other lands. The third Repeal was a catch all that can bounce a Deceiver Exarch or Tarmogoyf, but I felt it could have been a Careful Consideration or a draw spell of some kind.

To explain some choices, Dissipate is a card most of you would be surprised to see in Modern, however I wanted a good catch all answer for the late game, and I wanted something that could turn off a Punishing Fire. I toyed with the idea of Hinder since it can pseudo Time Walk an opponent, but I felt the exile clause in a format of Punishing Fire was more relevant. I have also thought about Quash, since it hoses Punishing Fire, but it’s too narrow since it can only target an Instant or Sorcery. Counterbore was obviously too expensive, but Mindbreak Trap could be an option that helps with the Storm match up as well, however three mana is a much better place to be and I thought I’d start there.

The deck has enough basics to function well and avoid getting beaten by Blood Moon and it also gives you enough lands that don’t hurt your life total, there is also an emphasis on red sources to get maximum value from Punishing Fire. The lack of sweepers is largely due to the instant speed nature of the deck; I’d rather board into them that have them main deck, since I should get enough value from removal, Snapcaster and Lightning Angel to not have a sweeper in the main deck and still be positive against Zoo. The lack of filter spells like Sleight of Hand or Serum Visions is a little worrying, but I felt I had enough business spells that I didn’t need to draw into them or find them, but card advantage and selection are something I want to test to see if the build needs more.

Sideboard wise, this colour combination gives me access to Combust, Mindbreak Trap, Slagstorm, Wrath of God, Timely Reinforcements, Shattering Spree, Ancient Grudge, more Negate, Threads of Disloyalty, Purify the Grave, Blood Moon, Leyline of Sanctity and suchlike. This obvious gives me a massive amount of choice, however I need to analyse how the main deck fares in each of the match ups before I can make a fully educated sideboard plan. So, I fired up the computer and gave the main deck a run out on Cockatrice.

Between smashing lots of people’s random homebrews, I managed to get a few games against some real decks:


This build was running Liliana of the Veil, Punishing Fire, a host of removal and Thirst for Knowledge, backed up by Kitchen Finks.

My opponent wins the die roll and keeps seven, I go down to six cards. It has Repeal , Lightning Angel, Lightning Helix, and three lands including the Grove. My opponent begins with Sakura-Tribe Elder, whilst I sit back, he drops a Liliana which makes me discard, then it gets eaten up by a Lightning Angel and Helix. I draw a Snapcaster mage and Negate, which I use to counter a Thirst for Knowledge once he’s down to two cards. A few turns go by, but he has Punishing Fire and Grove so neither of us has a board. Eventually he makes a Gifts Ungiven, stupidly I fetched wrong earlier and miss the mana to hit a Snapcaster-Negate. He gets Ravens Crime and Liliana into his hand, whilst his Eternal Witness and All Sun’s Dawn hit the bin. He runs me out of cards with Liliana, whilst he too is out of resources, but keeps chugging with Punishing Fire. I manage to Dissipate one of them, leaving him with a slower clock. I draw a Path to Exile after he makes a Kitchen Finks and my burn and Repeals keep his Liliana small enough. I make it through thirty one cards and find no Punishing Fire, but three Groves. My opponent slowly grinds a win out as I draw some lands but hit no Fires, many turns where a bolt or helix could kill Liliana pass, and my lack of Lightning Angel number two in the game allows his Liliana to Fact or Fiction my lands, but I still have plenty. We both draw lands and he grinds me out with one copy of Fires.

A pretty dull game that basically came down to who drew the most Punishing Fires, but if I hadn’t misplayed with my manabase, I would have been able to counter the Gifts and probably have had a better game, but in the end the only real factor in the game was Punishing Fires. This makes me value Dissipate a lot more if Gifts decks are going to be popular.


This is the list which he used in worlds, complete with one Snapcaster, two Bant Charm and two Negate. We played three games, all pre sideboard just to see how the deck fares.

Game one – My opponent didn’t make a one drop, so it gave me the chance to kill his Tarmogoyfs which were 2/3’s by using burn spells rather than my Path. Eventually I dropped some creatures and with plenty of life gain off of the Lightning Helix, I could seal up the game and swing happily with my Angel.

Game two – My opponent was stuck on two lands for a while, which let me deal with his early guys and see his triple Knight of the Reliquary in hand with my Vendilion Clique which let me beat down for a while and hold up my Dissipate for when they hit the stack. I managed to control the game well and beat in the sky for the win with Punishing Fire backup.

Game three- I mulliganned, my opponent dropped a Wild Nacatl followed by a Qasali Pridemage, I Repealed the Nacatl that turn, but had to take a hit from a Steam Vents to do it. He followed up with more guys, and I fell behind, leaving my Angel to make a block on a Goyf, knowing he’d probably have the burn to kill it. A land of the top instead of the Snapcaster I needed, I fell further behind and my Vendillion Clique showed my his double Kitchen Finks, making my second angel no match for his Goyf and Knight clock.

Situations like game three are the ones where a sideboard sweeper would really help, and Repeal didn’t feel amazing, it really is a placeholder card in this deck until I find the right card, or at least the third copy has to go. If I can hit a couple of turns of removal, then I’m fine, and the life gain I get is really important in this match up. I had tested the match up against a Boom // Bust variant earlier in the week and found the match up to be pretty good as long as you fetch up basics to make Blood Moon effectively dead.

I played some more games, unfortunately most were against random decks and not top tier, but it showed me the manabase works. Things that I feel need changing in the deck, Repeal does not feel adequate enough, and the deck needs some real card draw, however the prospect of running something like Think Twice or Jace’s Ingenuity doesn’t fill me with much happiness. I think I’ll try out Careful Consideration so I can hand sculpt better and can pitch Punishing Fire or Snapcaster Mage targets without losing much. Dissipate however, has been pretty good in testing, I don’t think I want a third in the main deck, but I’d definitely run another in the board.

As for the sideboard, a sweeper is in order, probably Wrath of God, along with Combust and more counterspells, two or three copies of Purify the Grave and we’re left with one more slot to decide upon. I’ll continue testing and let you know how the deck changes and improves, if you want to leave me any feedback or test the deck yourselves, I’d be glad to see your results and hear your opinions.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing.


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